Beckman conquers Showdown, Indy field set

Beckman Conquers Showdown, Force Fails to Make U.S. Nationals Field Jack Beckman conquered the elite Skoal Showdown field Sunday afternoon at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis during an afternoon filled with new names and disappointed ...

Beckman Conquers Showdown, Force Fails to Make U.S. Nationals Field

Jack Beckman conquered the elite Skoal Showdown field Sunday afternoon at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis during an afternoon filled with new names and disappointed veterans. The Funny Car bonus event was contested amidst the final two rounds of qualification attempts for the NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Topping the ladders for Monday's finals are Chip Ellis, Max Naylor, Jeff Arend and Tony Schumacher.

The eight contenders for the 2007 Skoal Showdown were determined by qualifying points earned since the 2006 U.S. Nationals. Vying for the six-figure bonus were Jack Beckman, John Force, Tommy Johnson Jr., Robert Hight, Gary Scelzi, Tony Pedregon, Mike Ashley and Ron Capps.

Beckman knocked off Johnson Jr. and Hight before meeting his teammate Capps in the finals. Capps had defeated Scelzi and Ashley in earlier rounds. Capps left the line first, but Beckman caught him before the 60 foot mark and kept the lead to the finish line, taking the trip in a quick 4.950 seconds to Capps 4.976.

"I'm so excited right now. It was a close race, especially from 800 feet on," Beckman said. "I could hear the other car out there and I was just staring at the win light saying, 'Come on, come on, come on.' Even at 325 mph it takes a long time to get there."

An oversized check worth $100,000 was waiting for Beckman in victory lane. Then as Beckman waved to fans in the stands from the return lane, cash literally fell from the sky as a briefcase full of bills, attached to a skilled skydiver, landed in the narrow patch of grass between the return lane and the drag strip. The NHRA has put up an extra $50,000 if Beckman can double up and win the Nationals on Monday as well.

Beckman was able to focus on the Showdown today after having already locked in his spot in the U.S. Nationals. Track temps today above 100 degrees created a challenge for teams still trying to break into the top sixteen. NHRA legends and regulars will be among the regular spectators Monday after missing the field.

Standing on the sidelines tomorrow will be John Force after he failed to make the final Funny Car field in Indianapolis for the first time since 1984. "You bet it hurts," Force conceded. "But you have to earn the right to be in the Indy race. We're still in the countdown and that's what it's all about."

Force will forego his drivers suit to don his team owner's hat Monday, ensuring his supporters, "I want to make it clear I still have 2 Fords in this field, my daughter Ashley and Robert [Hight]. The Force name will go on."

Also missing from the ladders is Pro Stock legend Warren Johnson who has held a spot in the U.S. Nationals field for 31 years straight before 2007. But in less than seven seconds, that streak came to an end and by a margin of .001 seconds.

Additional notable drivers with a DNQ include: Top Fuelers Doug Kalitta, Whit Bazemore and J.R. Todd; Funny Car drivers Cruz Pedregon and Tommy Johnson, Jr.; Pro Stock's V Gaines; Pro Stock Motorcycle pilot Geno Scali.

While legends are on the sidelines, a few newcomers are sitting on top of their ladders. Heading the Funny Car field is Jeff Arend, earning his first career number one qualifier with his low E.T. 4.754 seconds. Arend shared sympathy for Force," I hate to see John not qualified. He was a hero of mine growing up. I'm sad he's not in."

But Arend was unable to contain his excitement, continuing, "But I'm really happy we're in. There's nothing like the U.S. Nationals. It's still kind of unbelievable. We have a great team, but I don't think it's sunk in yet."

Rounding out the top five in Funny Car are Ashley Force, Jack Beckman, Robert Hight and Ron Capps.

Pro Stock driver Max Naylor didn't make the top sixteen last year in his first ever trip to Indianapolis. This year he sits on top of the field with a low E.T. 6.655. Call it luck, call it Indy karma, Naylor is the only PS driver making runs down the quarter mile on Hoosier brand tires.

Naylor took advantage of the return lane after his final run, walking the lane and shaking hands with fans standing against the fence. "If is wasn't for these fans out here, none of us would have anything to do," Naylor said. "It's all these people who come out here and support the companies that sponsor us. It's important that they get the respect they deserve."

The significance of the Indianapolis race doesn't escape Naylor. "This is very special. This is not just another race. This is a special race to every drag racer who's ever come here. We're going to go out Monday and do the best we can."

Jim Yates, Dave Connolly, Allen Johnson and Kurt Johnson round out the Pro Stock top five.

Chip Ellis regained his number one spot on the Pro Stock Motorcycle ladder with his fifth and final run, a record breaking 6.948 seconds low E.T.. "We were shooting for a .96, .97. I almost fell off the bike when they showed the time on the TV screen," Ellis shared. He is followed on the rungs by Hector Arana, Andrew Hines, Matt Smith and Chris Rivas.

This is Ellis' second number one of 2007 and he feels like he's regaining his focus. "As time goes on, people out think themselves. My whole goal this weekend is to get back to the basics," Ellis shared. "It doesn't matter what round it is or who we're racing. You can't bring anything but you're A game when you race these guys. [Monday] we'll go out there and stay focused and the Lord will have his way."

Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher earned his third straight number one in Indianapolis with his low E.T. 4.477 seconds, followed on the bracket by Larry Dixon, Bob Vandergriff, Melanie Troxel and David Grubnic.

"It's going to be a big day tomorrow," Schumacher said. "Two of the top eight in the countdown didn't make it. The key is for us is, no matter how tough the race is we have to capitalize on that opportunity."

Schumacher is referring to the NHRA PowerAde Series' new points format called the Countdown for the Championship. Coming into Indianapolis, the top eight points earners in each division were locked into the Countdown. The points are reset and those drivers have four races, starting in Indianapolis, to get into the top four points positions.

The new format makes each run more significant for those in the Countdown, and the failure to make a top sixteen ladder more painful for those in the running, including Bazemore, Todd, Force and Johnson.

Opening ceremonies for the U.S. Nationals are scheduled to begin Monday morning at 9:30am and the first round of eliminations at 11:00am.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , David Grubnic , Cruz Pedregon , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force , Melanie Troxel , Allen Johnson , Chris Rivas , Mike Ashley , Andrew Hines , Matthew Smith , Jeff Arend , Bob Vandergriff , Chip Ellis , Robert Hight , Max Naylor , J.R. Todd , Dave Connolly , Tommy Johnson Jr.